‘Outrageous.’ ‘Absolute filth.’ ‘Sensationally berserk.’ A mere selection from the positive explosion of praise used in reference to the duo dubbed the Darlings of the Neo-Cabaret scene. They describe themselves as ‘part-theatre, part-cabaret, part-catwalk freakshow’ and since first appearing together in 2007 have performed at the Royal Opera House, Queen Elizabeth Hall and The Royal Academy of Arts, alongside a sell-out show at Soho Theatre, with a recent appearance at Sadler’s Wells studios. Who are these people? Suffice to say I was curious enough to totter off to East London and find out.
Post-performance I was still not entirely sure how to answer this question. The best I could come up with was time travellers from a 1920’s Wintergarten cabaret in Weimar republic Berlin, who spent a stint in the 80s pop scene, got bored and moved on to dark piano pop, whilst acquiring a wardrobe to rival lady Gaga along with lyrics explicating a witty, acidulous cynicism for all things ‘Now’. I decided to organise a meeting with them in an attempt to try and get, slightly more concisely, to the heart of the matter. Meet Georgeois Bourgeois and Maurice Maurice – aka George Heyworth and Livvy Morris, the duo hiding under the tower of false eyelashes, sequins and general sartorial menagerie adorning their spicily tragicomic and narcissistic cabaret alter egos.
Chatting with the pair (in Shoreditch, naturally) I discover that Bourgeois and Maurice are in fact the product of a rather convoluted storyline. Maurice originated as Bourgeois’ grandmother, before temporarily transforming into his transvestite sister, and emerging as his melancholic sibling (think a gothic Patsy Stone). ‘We do look alike. George’s hair on stage, how it’s cut, actually looks quite similar to mine. So we do play up to that,’ Livvy tells me. I suspect this may just be to console me after my embarrassing mistake earlier in thinking they genuinely were brother and sister. With such a powerful embrace of their respective stage roles, they inevitably retreat post-show somewhat further away from said personae than they normally would lie on the personality scale. Livvy, with limited verbal input on stage, will ‘talk continually’ after the show, whereas George ‘goes quite mute’; this has also permeated his dress-sense – donning t-shirt rather than catsuit at a recent New Years fancy dress party.
In the spirit of mockery that characterised Josephson’s Café society (which advertised itself as ‘the Wrong Place for the Right People’) the duo are not afraid to push the boundaries society has attempted to place around them. Both describe their early performance talents as more theatrical than musical. When they first started recording, Livvy hadn’t played the piano since school (she has now mastered the art of producing a delicious tinkle on the ivories) and describes this as rendering her somewhat mute on stage (when not singing), which then ‘quite naturally’ led to her laconic role. An enigmatic yet comic femme fatale perched over a grand piano, the character of Maurice (whom she describes as ‘morose, awkward, yet content. She’s happy being morose’) compliments perfectly the outrageous demeanor and mannerisms of the ‘androgynous sociopath’ Bourgeois. The harmonising of their voices was an auditory treat, disguising the outright bitchiness of some of the lyrics, although George feels his appearance perhaps plays a larger part in letting him get away with saying certain things: ‘you can get away with stuff a lot more when you’ve got that amount of makeup on your face.’ Livvy agrees: ‘That has allowed us to go slightly further with what we say to people. We kind of hide behind the bars.’
The songs have epidemic potential rivaling that of swine flu: recently I found myself singing ‘Don’t go to art school’ whilst out with some arty young things from Central St Martins. Oops. The song does however make the valid point that ‘it doesn’t make you a more interesting person to pickle things in tanks’ although is perhaps a bit harsh in its warning that ‘They steal your lunch/ Pickle it in lube/ Then exhibit it at the White Cube.’ In their most recent performance the pair comment on a multiplicity of current social customs, trends and clichés. For example, they dedicate a pole dance to George Osborne chanting ‘Tax me, Tax me,’ along with an expression of empathy to students everywhere with their song ‘Give us stuff for free.’ My personal favourite was a very catchy Ode to Ritalin as they drawl ‘did you like that little bit of ritalin we gave you?’ together with the appropriately festive song ‘Santa is a Terrorist’ as the show drew to a close.
The Sadler’s Wells crew spotted them at Latitude festival before inviting them to perform at the Dance Studio in Islington. ‘Seeing as we were actually criticized in Edinburgh for our inability to dance, then of course we decided we have to call the show Can’t Dance.’ The songs (with wit acerbic enough to cut through any prudish obstructions) were interspersed with videos (including awkward dance lessons with Balletboyz), cartoons (the highlight being a meeting with Diaghilev, who expressed a similar lack in faith for their dancing skills as the aforementioned Edinburgh fan base; they mused on the process of being reduced to two dimensions as ‘very exciting’) and some utterly delicious vignettes – Bourgeois throws a strop at one point and Maurice trots over clasping a scented candle. The show provides enough variety to satiate the most hardened and demanding East-London-culture-vulture, yet maintains a constant theme of being, quite simply, fabulous.
Costume changes are as dramatic as they are slick – Bourgeois surprised everyone by hopping back onto the stage mid-performance dressed in a pink and black polka dot gimp suit. The entourage of outrageous outfits is put together by the fashion designer Julian J Smith, known for his original and fairly unusual clothing, stemming from 60s influenced bold prints and supplemented with an extravaganza of colour and audacity. George cites Smith as playing a major part in constructing their stage personae, allowing the show to move towards a more theatrical cabaret performance. Practicality sometimes had to be compromised: ‘As the venues got bigger, the costumes had to get bigger’ notes George, describing one outfit (an explosion of green folds formed into a sort of truffle encircling his torso) as ‘really strange to move in, quite restrictive, so you sort of move like a Michelin man.’
Despite the aforementioned liberty their eye-catching costumes afford their lyrics, they tell me that things do sometimes go a bit wrong, a case in point being the dangers of audience participation. George recounts one ‘victim’ who turned out to have a taste for the melodramatic limelight akin to theirs. ‘He kind of flipped, throwing his drink in my face.’ George returned the favour, after which the man ‘calmed down, and seemed to want to stay on stage.’ Accidentally choosing an individual lying on the other end of the attention-seeking scale can be equally disastrous, as the pair recount a moment when Bourgeois pretended to kill a female member of the audience on stage. ‘There was a knife on stage and she just saw it and freaked out. You really can’t predict how people will react to things.’ Fleeing to the back of the stage, she was then pursued by Bourgeois, much to the amusement of the audience – interaction with them being key to his role. At the Sadler’s performance he climbs on top of and into the centre of the audience. This is not without its risks: he notes the potential danger of sitting on a man with a ‘massive spinal injury or something. That could happen.’ Good to see the pair have a moral streak. Livvy also tells me they occasionally did have to ‘veto some lyrics,’ so there are limits to how naughty they’re prepared to be. Some of their songs inevitably will age faster than others. A satirical Lol at the Nu-Rave scene in ‘Girls in Neon’ is probably somewhat more susceptible to creeping crow’s feet than the timeless (although perhaps I’m being pessimistic) jab at the over-medication of our nation’s children, ‘Ritalin.’
George tells me their take on the world whilst off-stage is not anyway near as cynical about life as that of Bourgeois and Maurice. ‘We really just take things that are often quite nice, that we actually quite like, and just look at the other side of the coin. The mass media voice is currently kind of tended towards the critical. So it’s almost like being approached and slated by a Daily Mail writer, but just packaged in a totally different way.’ Livvy agrees, ‘The idea is not to shock, it’s to get people to question, which can require saying some fairly outrageous things, but it’s not meant to be an attack.’ Despite our creative differences, I empathise with the duo about the necessary evil of deadlines with regards to getting writing done, as well as the need to rehearse songs before taking them to stage: ‘If you don’t give it that time, then inevitably the song ends up not being that great and we just throw it away.’
We discuss the addictive nature of our modern lives (their personal vices? Livvy is hooked on coffee, whilst George soberly admitted, ‘I think I might be addicted to the internet’), which features in a number of their songs. For example, ‘Cyber Lament’ combines a look at social networking sites with an addiction to bodily mutilation: ‘I’m so sick of all these friend requests/ And the leaking from my silicone breasts.’ Discussing the changing of personal identity through clothing, Livvy sympathises with the process of ‘coming out’ (in terms of fashion sense) at university, followed by a retreat to your stylistic ‘middle ground.’ A song from an earlier show launches a more direct attack on those confused by the liminal period of university existence: ‘if you don’t know what to do with your life, then just die/ YOU are not important/ Your gap year was entirely yours, Nobody else wants to know about it.’ They describe one facet of their work as being an unusual form of self-help, although this evidently hasn’t compromised the great fun to be had in outright mockery.
This duo really is anything but dull. Their parody on the boredom epidemic suffered by office workers everwhere (YouTube the video, although preferably before applying for that fasttrack graduate scheme) is hilariously accurate in its social observation. Their performance is everything cabaret should be – sexy, pushing at the boundaries of artistic license and definition, a visual and auditory feast, and very, very funny. In response to my plea for a tip on how people can become less dull George reveals, ‘You know, I think that what makes people dull is being really judgemental, and that’s quite ironic. People who close things out are the most boring people in the world. So maybe don’t do that.’ So Be There (Bistrotheque in London, at the end of 2nd Week) for this antidote to all that’s dull, or Be Square as a pair of nu-rave Ray-Bans.
Bourgeois and Maurice are at Bibliotheque, 28-29th January, 9pm, and Brighton Dome on Valentine’s day. £12.50/£10